CHRISTCHURCH // The All Blacks received a first-half dressing down by their captain Mils Muliaina and a half-time tongue lashing by coach Graham Henry after their unconvincing 27-6 victory over Italy yesterday. The All Blacks played on the back foot and attempted to run at every opportunity and force passes rather than build momentum from which to attack.
They still managed to score three tries by Joe Rokocoko, Isaac Ross and George Whitelock, while Luke McAlister added three conversions and two penalties at Lancaster Park. Italy fullback Luke McLean scored his side's points with a penalty in each half. However it was the lowest score the All Blacks had posted against the Italians in 10 Tests, and just the second time they had failed to score more than 50 points.
"We put a lot of pressure on ourselves by trying to run it from everywhere and that probably reflected in the score at half-time," Muliaina said. Muliaina said Henry had also displayed his anger at half-time. "There were a lot of opportunities there but we just didn't execute and it's very disappointing." Ross, who was one of the few All Blacks to shine by scoring his first Test try and contributing significantly to replacement flanker Whitelock's try, said the side had recognised they needed to be more effective in their execution.
"We didn't start like we wanted to and Millsy [Muliaina] came out and gave us a good shake-up," Ross said. "The boys are just too eager but you can't start playing rugby from [inside] your own half. "We got a good shake-up at half-time and we came out in the second-half firing a bit better but heading into the Tri-Nations - against Australia and South Africa - we can't afford to start playing at half-time."
Italy coach Nick Mallett, who was ecstatic at the way his side kept the score down, said the Tests against Australia and New Zealand had been a beneficial experience. "Everything has to be taken into perspective. Italy is a small rugby nation...and to come on a tour like this, and to concede just an average of 30 points in each game is a fantastic effort," he said. "I'm incredibly proud of them. The coaching staff were very happy with the way we hung in there.
"It was a dry night, dry ball and a very good attacking New Zealand side. We got beaten by 70 points in the World Cup so we had a lot of pride to get back. "[Conceding] 13 points in the first half and 14 in the second, I'm very happy with that," Mallett added. * Reuters